UPDATE: NYT reported that Dr. Jose Baselga has resigned his post at Sloan-Kettering.
In a page one article in the New York Times that appeared this past Sunday, it was reported that a leading physician in the field of breast cancer research had intentionally neglected to disclose the fact that he had been receiving millions of dollars from pharmaceutical companies.
In the dozens of articles that leading researcher, Dr. Jose Baselga penned for such prestigious publications as The New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet, he had omitted that he was accepting payments from various drug and health care companies.
As a highly visible and well respected figure in the medical research community. Dr. Jose Baselga is the chief medical officer at Manhattan’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Moreover, he has served in an advisory capacity with such pharmaceutical companies at Roche and Bristol-Myers Squibb, among other drug companies. As such, his involvement with the companies has led to the development of breakthrough drugs that have revolutionized breast cancer treatment options.
Since 2014, Dr. Baselga has received $3 million in consulting fees from Roche.
An analysis conducted by the New York Times and ProPublica resulted in the determination that Dr. Baselga was negligent in complying with financial disclosure rules that are mandated by the American Association for Cancer Research when he was the president of the group.
As one of the two editors for “Cancer Discovery” – the AACR’s medical journal, the paper reported that Dr. Baselga also did not include in his articles any information about the payments that he has been the recipient of from various companies that are linked to the field of cancer research.
The NYT reported that at a 2017 conference, Dr. Baselga had portrayed the results of two clinical drug trials sponsored by Roche quite favorably but had not disclosed that he had a working relationship with the company. Many of his medical contemporaries had viewed the results of the trials as disappointments.
For his part, Dr. Baselga did not deny that he had relationships with dozens of drug companies and in an interview with the New York Times, he had said that the omission of such payments was an oversight and not meant to be intentional.
About 10 years ago, information began emerging that the pharmaceutical industry was having a covert influence on drug research. This, in turn, aroused the ethics concerns of the medical community in terms of strengthening its conflict of interest requirements.
Respected figures in the medical community have posited that bias can occur if outside drug companies wield too much influence with researchers and doctors and can determine the manner in which clinical studies are designed and medications are prescribed to patients.
According to the NYT article, the AACR has instituted consequences for doctors who violate the disclosure rules. Although some consider the penalty not severe, the organization has told its journal authors that they would face a 3 year ban on publishing articles if they are found to have non-disclosed financial arrangements with drug companies.
Since 2013, Dr. Baselga has held board memberships with at least six drug companies according to the NYT report. In his role as a board member, the doctor has been required to protect the financial interests of the companies that he had worked with, yet simultaneously he oversees the operations of the cancer center.
This has led to speculation that the two arrangements cannot coincide from an ethical standpoint and would be injurious not only to patients but to the reputations of doctors and the public trust in drug companies.